<m2m-eng> EU court takes on Schiphol Fire
jo van der spek
jo at xs4all.nl
Mon Jan 5 23:13:45 CET 2009
International Press Release
6th of January 2009
European Court of Human Rights admits case against Dutch ministers for
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has informed Dutch lawyer
Mr.N.M.P. Steijnen that the Court has admitted the application against two
former Dutch ministers, or the State, in relation with the Schiphol Fire.
This fire on the 26th of October 2005 killed eleven detained migrants in
a detention center on the premises of Hollands main Schiphol airport.
Mr. Steijnen is pressing these charges representing committee of
non-governmental organizations, survivors and relatives of the deceased
against Mr. J.P.H. (Piet Hein) Donner, who was at the time minister of
Justice (and today of social affairs) and against Mrs. M.C.F. (Rita)
Verdonk, who was at the time Minister of Immigration and Integration. They
are charged with cruel and humiliating treatment (Art.3 ECHR) of both the
killed inmates and the survivors of the fire. Donner is held responsible
for the construction and the management of the complex, while Verdonk was
in charge of the administrative detention of undocumented migrants and of
the treatment of the survivors after the fire.
The European Court's decision brings this procedure now to the
international level, after the Dutch legal instances have decided against
prosecuting, on the grounds that servants of the state cannot be held
accountable in person. The independent Dutch Security Board concluded in
2006 that the disaster would have been much smaller if the authorities had
lived up to the regulations. As a consequence of this report two Ministers
then resigned, Donner and Mrs. Dekker (Housing and Environment). Verdonk
remained in office and is now heading her own populist, right-wing party
"Trots op Nederland" (Proud of the Netherlands).
The only one man being prosecuted in relation to the Fire will stand to
appeal in the coming months.
The accused is Ahmed Isa Al-J(eballi), a migrant from Libya, who was
detained in Block K of the Detention Center of Schiphol East in order to
be transported back to his native country. In the night of the 26th of
October 2005 a fire took place in this Block, which killed eleven inmates.
Ahmed Isa is charged for setting fire to his cell by throwing away his
cigarette butt before falling asleep. In 2006 he was condemned to three
years of confinement by the Court of Haarlem for causing the fire and thus
killing eleven people and severely wounding fifteen others. The judge
thereby endorsed the argumentation of the District Attorney that Ahmed Isa
consciously took the risk of causing the disaster by negligently throwing
away his cigarette: conditional intent.
The technical evidence is highly disputed and is under revision by an
expert team at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland). There is serious
evidence that the fire started elsewhere in Block K. The chance that the
particular type of cigarette the accused was smoking could effectively
start a fire is very small. It was a roll-your-own shaggie rolled with
paper called Blue Rizla, known to extinguish rapidly. Last December two
experts, Prof. Wagenaars en Koppen, pointed out that the memory of the
accused, particularly his admitting that he pitched his cigarette that
very evening of the fire, is highly unreliable. This is another major
blow for the persecutor, comments Ahmed isas lawyer mr. Eduard Damman.
However, the fundamental argument against the ruling of the court is a
political one: even if it were true that Ahmed Isa caused the fire then
the Dutch State has done everything to make it possible for his cigarette
to create a major disaster. Basically the state is responsible for those
detained in their facilities. The building and safety regulations had been
neglected and the training level of the personnel was substandard.
Free Ahmed Isa = Justice for All Survivors
The cause of justice for all survivors boils down to the case of the only
man that has been accused so far: Ahmed isa Al-J(eballi). A proper
administration of justice is of the highest importance for their well
being and indeed for their lives. Therefore M2M Radio calls on
international law experts to monitor this case.
There are several reasons to seek international monitoring of the upcoming
- The International dimension: the victims of the Schiphol Fire are
citizens of at least thirty five different countries around the world.
- The disaster happened in the domain of administrative law aimed at
tackling irregular migration in the Netherlands. The Dutch government has
been criticized in many instances both by the European Court, the
Commission for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman Treatment of the
European Council and by Amnesty International for not living up to
internationally established standards of rule of law and human rights.
- The Dutch State is party in this case and therefore it is doubtful if it
can guarantee a fair trial.
- The case of the Schiphol Fire has severely damaged the confidence of
many citizens in the democracy of the Netherlands.
- Finally, not only the accused, but also the survivors and relatives of
the dead, are suffering until this day from the physical, material and
psychological consequences of the fire. A proper administration of
justice is of the highest importance for their well being and indeed their
To facilitate the monitoring M2M Radio will produce live coverage of the
trial and parallel sessions on the internet:
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